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SSA effort to curb disabled benefits abuse to go national

The thing about being a person with a disability is that sometimes you don't have the capability to manage many of the regular activities of daily living.

Most readers might think of those activities as involving little more than performing daily hygiene functions or being able to eat without assistance. But being able to manage financial resources such as Social Security disability benefit payments could also come under that heading.

In circumstances where a beneficiary is deemed unable to handle financial matters, Social Security Administration officials name a representative payee to deal with things. Sometimes the system doesn't work quite as it should, though. Gaps in the representative selection process can lead to abuses, as allegedly occurred in Philadelphia in 2011.

Prompted by evidence from that particular case, officials piloted a program in Philadelphia aimed at reducing abuses going forward. Under the program, candidates for representative payee status were rejected if they had ever been convicted of one of 12 crimes. The list includes such things as convictions for human trafficking, kidnapping, first-degree homicide, abuse and fraud or identity theft. 

This week, the SSA announced it's taking the program national.

Some experts suggest the program isn't what it could be. They note that the SSA screened out just 285 individuals out of nearly 35,000 applications during the pilot period. They also observe that screeners can't use the most reliable criminal databases available, making errors possible.

Still, supporters say it's better than nothing and one U.S. senator pledges it is only a first step.

One thing readers should know is that representative payees are not supposed to be assigned arbitrarily. The SSA says it generally seeks a family or friend to serve in the role. If you want to serve in this capacity you have to submit an application. And, as with all legal matters related to obtaining social security disability benefits, it's wise to work with an attorney.

Source: Philly.com, "Social Security expands background checks," Wendy Ruderman and Barbara Laker, Philadelphia Daily News, March 3, 2014

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